For over twenty-two years, my Dad was a driver with United Africa Company (U.A.C.) Textiles, one of the parent companies of the current Unilever Ghana Limited. He drove one of the company’s Bedford trucks, and he travelled the length and breadth of Ghana on trips sending textiles to the many distributor outlets. Indeed, on my Unilever trade visits to Saltpond and Dunkwa on-Offin, two elderly men had identified me as my dad’s son (they used to be UAC storekeepers!). My mum has always been a petty trader, as far as I can remember. She tells me she was a pupil teacher before her marriage to my dad. In my lifetime, she has sold plantain at the Mallam Atta market, cooked and sold ‘red red’ (a popular Ghanaian dish of fried ripe plantain and beans, with red palm oil), run a chop bar selling fufu, banku, and kokonte, both in Kotobabi (Accra) and Wasa Akropong, my hometown, where my parents moved to in 1989. Indeed, in my hometown, she is popularly called Auntie Esi Chop Bar! Today, in 2008, my Mum runs a small shop where she sells items ranging from spices through uncooked rice to bottled oil; a very hard-working woman who hasn’t taken a single vacation as far as I remember.
Together, this couple brought up eight children, four males and four females, in Kotobabi, a surburb of Accra. We grew up in a three-room rented apartment, in a compound house. Three rooms, because there was the main bedroom, which was used by my parents and the younger kids, who slept on mats on the floor; the second room, which was a combined sitting room with a bed on one side (my eldest brother used this, and which served as a bedroom during the night, when the chairs and tables were packed at one side to make room for mats and mattresses to be put on the floor for sleeping on. The third room was a kitchen space, but it was used to keep other stuff like water drums, and served as the storeroom as well. And don’t have the image of a kitchen with fridge, cabinets, electrical cooker, et cetera. Just think kitchen space! Nine other families lived in the compound house and we all shared the same utilities – bathhouse, toilets, water pipe, etc. It was great fun living in this house and growing up in Kotobabi.
We had the bare essentials, but were brought up to feel proud and content with what we owned. Within the compound house, for many years, only one tenant, Auntie Cecilia, owned a television set – “black and white”, we called it. She brought it out in the courtyard on Sundays for us all to watch Akan Drama together. Obra and Osofo Dadzie, the two main groups that were featured on Akan Drama, were so good and held the nation spellbound with their performances. One of the best plays I remember was Abyssinia. “Akan Drama” was broadcast around 8.30p.m. after Talking Point, a talk program on the only television station then, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) TV. We the kids hated Talking Point, and we just couldn’t wait for it to end for our favourite program to start. We therefore used the window between the evening news, which was telecast at 7.00 p.m., and the end of Talking Point to take our bath, because even though the viewing was in the open courtyard, one could be prevented from watching if he/she hadn’t bathed for the evening! I guess that was one of the ways the adults could get us to take our baths on Sundays, after so much play!
So, you could imagine the joy of the Damoah clan when between 1985 and 1986, my Dad came home with a TV set, and our sitting room was brightened with this rare device! At last, we didn’t need to be forced to take our bath before watching TV. We could also have our friends watch TV in our room, and our viewing was not limited to Sundays alone! To add to the surprise, he bought a deep freezer for my mum to make ice cream in cups, for sale and for our eating pleasure! The ice cream was called ‘Abele Walls’, made from a solution of milk powder, frozen in a cup with a stick stuck in it. We were on cloud nine!
In the year 1986, I passed the Common Entrance Examination, and gained admission into Ghana National College, Cape Coast, for my secondary school education. In the year 1986, the most cherished gadgets in the house, the television set and the freezer, ‘developed faults’ at the same time (the tale according to my Dad) and were sent away for repairs. My Dad had one answer to our queries about when the gadgets would be repaired. Dad’s workplace was at James Town, near the sea, and he told us the electrical shop where he had sent the items for repairs was so near the sea that the items had rusted from the impact of the sea breeze! We believed him, and mourned the loss of our gadgets. It was back to the courtyard for TV viewing, and no more ‘Abele Walls’ ice cream!
Years later, the truth about the vanishing gadgets came to light. My parents had sold the gadgets to make up funds to send me to Ghana National. The initial plan was for me to attend Amenfiman Secondary school in my hometown, but after my preparatory school class teacher, Mr. Edem (we called him Brother) had convinced my Dad that I had great acumen to study science (and to become a medical doctor), my Dad moved heaven and earth to get me into a good Science school. And that move included selling his prize gadgets, as it was necessary.
Going through secondary school and later through the University was not easy as far as funds were concerned. At one point, my parents had about five of us in school, at various stages and they found it difficult going. Along the line, after moving to my hometown, my Dad lost his job, and had to take on menial jobs, combined with farming, to supplement the efforts of my wonderful Mum. I could write volumes about the sacrifices they made, especially during my University days, and when the whole policy of cost sharing began. And these sacrifices are the ones I saw and observed. I am certain there were many others I had no idea about. According to Francis Bacon, “The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears.” But my parents held on and supported me, and I graduated. My graduation congregation was a joy both for me and my family, especially my parents, and as I walked towards the dais to receive my congratulatory handshake and a dummy of my certificate, their shouts were distinctly deafening (shouts of ‘Olu, Olu!’, as I am called by my family), and I rejoiced as they rejoiced with me.
The Akans in Ghana have a proverb, which translated, goes: “If someone watches over you as your teeth develops [as a child], it is your responsibility to watch and care for that person for his/her teeth to fall out [in his/her old age].”
Recently, I had a spirited discussion with a friend on whether or not it is good to plan on a regular basis, say monthly, to send remittance to parents. His argument was that when you send money of a monthly basis, your parents tend to plan with it and expect you to continue each month. And my counter response was, “Why not?”
Why not? Didn’t we as children count on the fact that our parents always had money, resources, to meet all our needs? Have you not heard of the blind faith of a child in the parents? If you need an example of a person with passion, watch the attitude of a parent whose child(ren) is/are in need, in danger or in distress. A parent will go all the way for the child; at least my parents did – and still do.
The least I can do for them is to care for them. In many ways than one. But the most consistent and tangible gesture is a regular remittance. It doesn’t need to be a million cedis each month to matter. It must cost me, it must be consistent and it must be done with love, passion and determination. One could extend this allowance to cover younger siblings, after first obtaining the parent’s approval. If you want a guideline as to how much, I would say at least half the value of your tithe or about 5% of your monthly net salary. For my wife and myself, who have been budgeting strictly each month, we allocate the total portion and split it almost equally for our two sets of parents. With my portion, I split and give a part to my little sister as monthly allowance and the rest I send to my parents. In the months that I need to distort the distribution, I discuss with my parents and get their agreement.
I can never pay back my parents for their sacrifices for me. The least I can do is to care for them for their teeth to fall out, and it need not be a crisis management act! In all the ways I can, I pledge to let them know that this little boy, on whose account they sold the only TV set and freezer they have ever bought in their lives, is grateful.
What are you giving back to your parents?
PS: I guess I need to complete the story by noting that my parents now have so many gadgets, they actually don’t switch some on! My siblings and I are paying them back for their goodness!
“Give ear to your father whose child you are, and do not keep honour from your mother when she is old.” Proverbs 23:22
“Let your father and mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice.” Proverbs 23:25
“There is a generation that curses its father, and does not bless its mother.” Proverbs 30:11
“The eye which makes sport of a father, and sees no value in a mother when she is old will be rooted out by the ravens of the valley, and be food for the young eagles.” Proverbs 30:17
“Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them.” Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)